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GA Special Grand Jury Recommended Charges For 39 People; Special Grand Jury Recommended Charges For Graham, Perdue, Loeffler; Willis: Jim Jordan Should Buy A Law Book, Learn About RICO; Rep Nancy Pelosi, 83, Plans To Run For Reelection. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 08, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, 39 names. I'm Dana Bash in Washington. The Fulton County special grand jury report is out, and it begs a lot of questions. The biggest one is this. Why did District Attorney Fani Willis decide not to prosecute key political figures despite getting a go ahead from a special grand jury.

The names in this report read like a who's who of Donald Trump's orbit, some who were indicted as part of the criminal conspiracy, a Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows and John Eastman. Now we are learning some of who we're not. Cleta Mitchell, Burt Jones, who's Georgia's lieutenant governor, now, longtime Trump aide and sometimes attorney Boris Epshteyn.

Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and some who serve and also served in the past in the United States Senate, Lindsey Graham, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Those last two, of course of Georgia.

CNN's Sara Murray has been closely looking over this newly released report. Sara, what are you seeing?

Sara Murray: Well, Dana, obviously the special grand jury felt that very many people deserve to be indicted after they heard months of evidence and heard from 75 witnesses. Again, this is not the grand jury that issued the indictments in this case. This was a grand jury whose job was to investigate, and they ultimately felt that 39 people should be indicted.

Now the district attorney did not just take that list and take it to a regular grand jury. What prosecutors did is they went through this name by name, and they tried to determine. Do the facts support a case against this person? Do we believe that we could put this before the regular grand jury, get an indictment and that we have the evidence to be able to take this person to trial and to succeed. And ultimately, you see a lot of these names fall away.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis ended up indicting 19 individuals, 18 of them including, of course, former President Donald Trump were recommended to be indicted by the special purpose grand jury. There was another one who does not show up in that report, Mike Roman, who the district attorney ultimately decided to bring charges against.

But I think what you're seeing is the difference between, you know, what normal folks and again, just regular people who served on a special purpose grand jury found offensive and thought maybe illegal versus what prosecutors felt they could actually prove and bring to trial. Dana?

BASH: Sara Murray, thank you so much for that reporting. And here with me at the table, CNN's David Chalian, CNN's Gloria Borger, CNN's Manu Raju, and Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times. Nice to see you all, a busy Friday as is typical, I think in the Trump years.

I want to again pull up the list of the 39 that this special grand jury recommended for indictment. And as we talked about before, as you just heard from Sara, 19 of these, including the former president himself were actually indicted separately.

For our purposes, I want to zero in on three individuals who are not. Lindsey Graham, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. And what is really interesting to me here is that Lindsey Graham, we actually have the breakdown of the grand jury voting, and Lindsey Graham, only 13 of them said yes, seven said no. For David Perdue, it was 17, four said no. Kelly Loeffler 14, six said no.

And just by way of comparison, most of those who were actually indicted again, including the former president, 20 of the special grand jurors said, yes. What does this tell us? I think let's just start with sort of the politics of what happened.

Manu Raju: Yes. I mean, look, I think that for Lindsey Graham, you're probably going to hear him say that, you know, so what some people in the grand jury voted to indict me. I was not indicted. There was a clear disagreement between him and Brad Raffensperger about exactly what happened here.

That Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, of course, I will allege that during Lindsey Graham intimidated him and pressured him to get rid of legally valid ballots and the aftermath of 2020. Lindsey Graham said the opposite.

He said that I was just calling about the Senate races in 2021. Those determine the Senate majority. He want to know the mail and voting system was valid. That's what he was concerned about. So, there was a complete difference in interpretation of that phone call.


BASH: Manu, I know I'm one of you talked to Lindsey Graham about this shortly after it became public. And I wanted our viewers to hear what he told you.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC): I think I have every right to reach out and say, how does it work. And that's what I did is really I thought a pretty good conversation.

RAJU: (Inaudible)

GRAHAM: (Inaudible) that wasn't my intent and that wasn't the purpose of the conversation to throw out ballots. We're talking about election (Inaudible) which is the Senate races.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You have conflicting accounts here from Raffensperger and Lindsey Graham. And so, we have, he said, he said situation. And some of the jurors thought, yes, OK, I believe Lindsey Graham, and some believe Raffensperger and Fani Willis.

So, I'm looking at that, I'm thinking, well, how do I prosecute that? What do I do? And what would I be able to win in court on this one? And my guess is, she said, no, I couldn't. And so, when you have these kinds of accounts, and no other information to kind of back it up.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: There's also this issue too. And this was an issue for all of the members of Congress who were sorted, who involved themselves in some way in Trump's effort to discredit or undercut the results of the election of, were they acting in their capacity as a member of Congress under the constitution, right?

He was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time. So, his argument has been that this was fully in within his rights. He was acting in his capacity as a member of Congress. And whether or not the dispute of actually what happened, what was said in the call was going to be hard for a jury to decide.

I think that element also it's an element of uncertainty for Willis. I mean, she was not going to know whether that would be a persuasive argument, because it certainly is an argument that he and a lot of other members have made.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I also think he's at the politics of this. The politics for Fani Willis of this is really interesting to me, because this, I think, is going to provide her this information of those she did not charge some political cover from the attacks that she's been receiving for an all-out political prosecutor who's, here she shows some restraint.

She obviously did not take all the recommendations of the special grand jury. Obviously, she also, I think, from a prosecutorial point of view, chose the ones that she thinks she was going to have the easiest time making the case in court, but it shows this was not some grand sweeping. If you're remotely involved, I'm coming after you. I think it gives her a little bit of political cover.

RAJU: Yes. In the David Perdue case is also fascinating, too, as well. Remember, not that he was a pretty mainstream Republican senator when he ran, when he was serving. He aligned himself with Trump during the Trump years, no question about it. But then he lost that election. And then he ran for governor and push those claims of fraud and said the election was stolen.

And then he got trounced in Georgia, in that Republican primary there, shows you where the electron is, which was much different place that Donald Trump was, and the primary electorate about those false claims of fraud and election.

BORGER: She had to make some choices. And you know, by the way, she did indict 19 people. So, let's not forget about that. And you have to make -- you have to make some choices about whether indicting an attorney, you know, Cleta Mitchell is worth it. When you have bigger fish to fry. And you have a bigger case.

BASH: There's another name in here, which is not a boldface Washington political name, but it's still interesting. His name is Burt Jones. And he was somebody who the special grand jury saw as somebody who could potentially be indicted. They recommended that he's indicted.

Who is Burt Jones? Well, he's now the lieutenant governor. But back then he was the opponent of a Democrat, who Fani Willis held a fundraiser for. And so, if you're talking about trying to avoid political quicksand, this to me is like exhibit. Maybe it's not, A, because Lindsey Graham was probably a, but this is like a one a.

CHALIAN: Yes. I mean, listen, we know there are all kinds of decisions that go into whether to prosecute or not prosecute, obviously, the law most important among them, and how you can prove a case. But Fani Willis is a political figure. That's, I mean, she's elected D.A. I mean, she is a politician. And so, there's no doubt that political calculation goes into this thinking as well.

BASH: Let's look at some, obviously we don't, and we shouldn't make this clear. We do not have visibility into the grand jury transcripts. We don't know the substance of what they heard during all of the testimony that they got, including from people like Lindsey Graham, who went kicking and screaming. He opposed it, but he eventually had to go testify.

But we do have some public statements from some of the public figures, like the former Georgia senators Perdue and Loeffler, and this was at a rally at the beginning of January 2021.


SEN. DAVID PERDUE, (R-GA): I'm encouraging my colleagues to object. This is something that the American people demand right now. There are huge irregularities in Georgia. They need to be investigated and they need to be corrected in my opinion.


SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER, (R-GA): My number one objective right now has to be winning on January 5. So that we can get to the bottom of what happened in these elections. For what we're fighting here for. And I'm continuing to fight for this president.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: OK. Not a rally Fox News. The substance was what was we wanted to get to.

RAJU: I mean, Loeffler was a fascinating case study in what happened in January 6. He was going to come back, and then object to the Georgia electoral results. But then after all the violence, the mob destruction of the Capitol, she pulled back and change her approach there.

But a lot of this perhaps has to do with both her and produce efforts to try to get Brian Kemp to have a special session to essentially overturn the election. Kemp resisted that, but perhaps as one big part of that was being investigated here.

BASH: And meanwhile, in the here and now, you have on Capitol Hill, Jim Jordan, the oversight chairman, investigating or at least trying to investigate the Georgia investigation led by Fani Willis. And she wrote a letter a very, very scathing. What am I call it a mike drop letter, saying, back off, Mr. Jordan.

I'll just read part of one section. For a more thorough understanding of Georgia's RICO statute, its application and similar laws in other states. I encourage you to read RICO state-by-state, as a non-member of the bar, just going to let that hang there for a second, you can purchase a copy for $249.

BORGER: It was like she was saying, I'm going to send you, or you can buy RICO for dummies. And this is what you need to do. I mean, this is where you know that she's a politician, because sending a letter like that to another politician is not -- is something another politician would do. Not a layperson. I'm sorry, we wouldn't no one would do that.

CHALIAN: Worst for both sides, right. This work of Jim Jordan and for Fani Willis. Like, this is a fight both, well, yes.

BASH: We have some breaking news that I want to discuss here. And that is Nancy Pelosi, the speaker America, who is still a member of Congress announced in California that she is going to run for yet another term to be a rank-and-file member of the House. Manu, you have been covering her for a very long time. Is this surprise you?

RAJU: Little bit? Yes and no. I mean, that surprise, because she loves the fight. She loves to be the middle of it. I think she's settled into a role as a rank-and-file member of the House after being the leader and speaker of the House for two decades. She has been in office since 1987. She's 83 years old.

So, there is probably some expectation that perhaps it's time for her to move on. There's already been a succession to quiet moving behind the scenes to replace her including, a potentially buy her own daughter. But you know, this Pelosi is enjoying, I think this moment and believes that about Democrats could get back in the majority next cycle. And she's making clear, she's not going anywhere, at least for the next few years. BASH: It has been really interesting to see that the transformation for her, it's like a weight has kind of lifted off of her because she doesn't have to do the rallying and the jogging that she -- that she is still so good at. And kind of figuring out everything that she needs to do to keep her very vast caucus together. And she can just kind of do what she wants and have a good time at being the representative from San Francisco. You've covered her for a long time as well, Julie?

HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: I think there was an expectation. And I would include myself in this theory that she was not going to want to be in Congress when she couldn't be in charge. Because that's just kind of the person she is like, Manu has said, she loves to be in the middle of the fight. She loves to be leading the fight.

And there was a real question in a lot of people's minds. And I think maybe in her mind as well, whether she was going to enjoy serving when she wasn't the boss of everything. But I think you're right, I think she has really settled into this role and feels like it's worthwhile to stay.

She does, I think see potential that Democrats could take majority again. And then that would be even more fun for her to actually be in the majority, but not have to be in the center of every single fight, grinding it out every single night the way she did as a speaker.

CHALIAN: And she has a big role in raising the funds to become the majority party. And so, you know, there's nothing rank-and-file about Nancy Pelosi. (crosstalk). So, yes, she is not in a position of leadership anymore. Not only is she loving this moment in time in her life in Congress, and able to get all these accolades and sort of awards and achievements her long career.

But she's still, yes, in the process of handing over a fundraising network to Hakeem Jeffries, but still very much the person that can raise the most dollars for Democrats, and they are so close to majority that that's a key part of this, too.

BORGER: You know, I think it's also gender related. She wants to see women in Congress, and she defends Dianne Feinstein, and so she should stay no matter what her problems are. And so, you know, I think that's also in her head.


BASH: And let me be clear, she's in her early 80s. I still can't keep up with her heels. And if she is wearing the heels, I'm not. I know you're the same. (crosstalk). All right. Up next, lawyers weigh in on the special grand jury report. And why Fani Willis might have decided against indicting even more people in Georgia.


BASH: More now on that Fulton County grand jury report. It recommended indicting 39 people including, Senator Lindsey Graham, and former senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both of Georgia of course Graham of South Carolina.

It is important to note of course, that the District Attorney Fani Willis chose not to indict those three and several others here to try to explain and read those legal tealeaves. CNN's Paula Reid, former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, and Emory Law Professor Kay Levine. Thank you so much one and all.


I will start with you Professor Levine down in Georgia, where this is all taking place. What do you make of the fact that this special grand jury recommended 39 indictments and that Fani Willis said for 20 of them, no thanks.

KAY LEVINE, PROFESSOR, EMORY UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Well, I think there's really two things that viewers should pay attention to. One is that prosecutors always have the choice. They first ask, you know, have all the legal requirements been met. And then they ask, should I go forward with the prosecution? You know, the first question is, can I? And the second one is, should I?

So, there's nothing really unusual about a prosecutor's office looking at the range of evidence and deciding, even if we think the evidence is there, it might not be worth given the balance of interest. It might not be worth pursuing a prosecution against this person or for this crime.

The second thing viewers should keep in mind is that all of these crimes that are that have been charged, all have just how intent requirements that are pretty specific. And I suspect that for Lindsey Graham, and David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler and some of the others. The office may have been concerned about not being able to prove criminal intent, that's required in the range of statutes that they were considering.

BASH: Very interesting. And you are listening to the professor, nodding your head, Elliot.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I absolutely. There is a few things going on. Number one, establishing intent would have been an issue for the senators because you might have run into a concern with, as members of Congress, they're protected by what's called the speech or debate clause of the constitution that might have gotten in the way of charging them with a crime.

Also, a possible legislative interest that members of Congress have been setting aside the sort of partisan mishegoss of all this. There's still -- it is a legal term. I saw your face. But that was for you, Dana, but no -- but because of that partisan business, they still do have some purpose, some function to oversee federal elections. So, there might have been an issue there.

And you saw, at least in the vote breakdown, which we should not make too much of because, you know, how they voted doesn't really matter to prosecutors. But it was still a hardware issue they grappled -- - BASH: You don't think so because -- you don't think it's perhaps -- because we do not have visibility into what the special grand jury heard. We don't -- we'd haven't seen the testimony. You don't think it says anything about whether they were persuaded one way or another with the evidence?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You know, because if you're having trouble convincing all of these people in a special grand jury, doesn't have send up a red flag because you walk into a different form of courtroom where you have a standard beyond a reasonable doubt. You have defense presentations, you have lawyers, with witnesses in the courtroom. Doesn't that send up a red flag for you like navy? OK, let's put this in the maybe pile and take a second look.

WILLIAMS: What I would say is that legal issues are hard, jurors sometimes get them wrong, sometimes get them right. And would have been up to the prosecutors to independently investigate and research all of this on their own. Even if the jurors had, if it were 10-9 or 10-8, maybe prosecutors still could have charged them because there was a complicated legal issue.

BASH: We do have just in the case of Lindsey Graham. Professor, the allegation was that he tried to meddle in the Georgia -- and the federal election in the state of Georgia by making a phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. He Lindsey Graham has denied that, that that's not what he was trying to do. He was just as a member of Congress, trying to get information.

The secretary of state has said in public, especially to CNN. Wolf Blitzer interviewed him that he had a different impression of what Senator Graham was saying. Let's listen to that.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN REPORTER: You described to The Washington Post a conversation you had with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Friday. You came away with the impression that he essentially wanted you to look for ways to toss out mailing ballots. What exactly did he say to you?

SEN. BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, (R-GA): Well, he asked if the balance could be matched back to the voters. And then he, I got the sense it implied that then you could throw those out for any, if you look at the counties with the highest frequent error of signatures. So that's the impression that I got.


BASH: Presumably, that's the testimony that he gave in private to this special grand jury as well. Professor?

LEVINE: Yes. I think here we get back to the issue of intense, right? If Senator Graham says well, when I was speaking that way, it was not my intent to do X. It was not my intent to do Y. Then we, I think the prosecutor's office has a real concern about how that kind of discrepancy would play before an actual jury.

I think we also see. There's one thing to point out, there's a footnote in this grand jury report that specifically discusses Perdue and Loeffler, which I found very, very interesting. It says, the jury believes that their statements following the November 2020 election, while pandering to their political base, do not actually give rise to criminal liability.


BASH: Yes.

LEVINE: So, I think they're probably that is giving some signal also to Fani Willis and her team that there will be different ways to construe with some of these public statements that were made.

WILLIAMS: I think that's exactly right that footnote and that's the tension you run into prosecuting any elected official for things that are tied to the work of their office or free speech. The problem here is, these people, and we should note this, they were not charged with crimes.

And their names were announced in this document. There's certainly Georgia law allowed it, but we in the criminal justice system protect, due process rights of people, and it's a big deal that these names came out. And I don't know if it was necessarily a great idea.

REID: I think that's an important discussion that's going to go on now. As journalists, of course, we air on the side of transparency. We want to know this is a historic document. It gives us insights into this, again, unprecedented investigation. But so far in the state of Georgia, they've aired way, way on the far side of pro transparency, cameras in courtrooms, right? Well, I'll agree that that's great.

Maybe not so great naming the grand jurors, listing their names and releasing those names to the world, as people have been doxed. They have faced threats. We see the district attorney walking that back for a potential jury. And then here, I think this is going to the subject of some debate. These people now don't have a process to clear their names.

We're talking about how it was recommended that they be charged, but they weren't. Again, we air on the side of transparency. But I think it's a very legitimate question whether these kinds of grand jury proceedings should be public.

WILLIAMS: Even if there are politically unpopular individuals. What set that aside, they are still people who are not charged with crimes whose names are now public.

BASH: Really important point that you've made there. All of you, thank you so much for that discussion. And up next, dismal poll numbers, the threat of a massive union strike. And the son on the brink, a son on the brink of indictment. President Biden leaves the country but can't escape some troubles he's having right here at home.